Models Monday: Getting Up

Marion Jones on the courthouse steps October 2007 in White Plains, N.Y.

“Why do we fall, sir? So that we might learn to pick ourselves up.” Alfred Pennyworth, Batman

This weekend, I watched 30 for 30: Marion Jones: Press Pause–this after viewing 9.79*, another 30 for 30 documentary about the track and field doping scandal involving Ben Johnson in the 1988 Seoul Games. Watching Press Pause was painful because the film spends so much time dealing with the moment captured in the image above when Jones first publicly admits to having made false statements to federal agents about using performance-enhancing drugs and to making false statements regarding a check fraud case. As much as some folk expressed ire towards Jones for lying and for so publicly claiming the fruits of gains that she had not honestly earned, I felt sadness for her in equal proportion. I was not happy to see Jones’s humiliation.

The film 9.79* suggests that Ben Johnson may have used performance-enhancing drugs for a steady portion of his career. In fact, at some point, most of the runners who lined-up to compete in the 100 m. dash final in Seoul tested positive for some banned substance. Perhaps much of my own sympathy for Jones stems from following her for much of her career and knowing that she has always been incredibly talented. Like Ron Rapoport, Jones’s biographer, I saw her drug use as so unnecessary. While I don’t know that she would have won five gold medals at the Sydney Games without doping, she certainly would have left decorated.

Viewers responses to Press Pause were quite scathing. People were upset with John Singleton, the film’s director, for appearing to give Jones a platform for providing a very biased account of her failings and that didn’t push her to be more forthcoming about other aspects of the case she might be hiding. What isn’t clear to me in cases such as these is when a person has suffered enough. The woman has had to suffer through prison–something Barry Bonds probably will not have to do, though he was convicted of obstructing justice–having to leave her young children and her husband for six months, and enduring the public humiliation of having to admit that she cheated and lied.

Despite her failings, I’m still rooting for Marion Jones. I think that people deserve the opportunity to pick themselves up after a fall. Jones appears to be refusing to allow herself to be defined by her shortcomings. Though she admits her limitations, she has not allowed them to ultimately determine how she will identify herself. She seems a perfectly good model for getting back up after taking a tumble, which happens to all of us at some time or another. It just can’t be that we always win, make the right choices, do what is best. And in those times, the champions might not be our best models, it might just be the losers who have something to offer.

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